It’s a small bullet point in a list of ten items from a March 25 provincial order in council, but the regulatory change will make a big difference for Bobbie Cherepuschak, an avid hunter who was born with spina bifida.
“Authorize permits to use tracked wheelchairs for hunters with mobility impairments,” the bullet point states.
After he took it up as a full-time hobby in 2003 and got his driver’s licence, he used special permits from the provincial government, allowing him to fire a gun from the cab of his truck. He renewed them every five years.
But such a set-up often limited how far into the bush he could track and find game, much less set up a clear shot.
Now the regulatory change allows hunters with disabilities and mobility issues to apply for a permit to use a motorized wheelchair, which comes equipped with thick, all-terrain treaded tracks that can handle the province’s rugged, rolling landscapes.
Cherepuschak and other hunters will fill out the Special Authorization for a Hunter with Disabilities form, ticking off a new box, beside which is listed “use a motorized wheelchair.”
The province’s Ministry of Environment gave him word of the change last week; on Monday a ministry worker told him the application was up on the saskatchewan.ca website.
“It’s slowly starting to hit me that I did something that changed something for everybody in the province in my situation, not just for myself for my own good,” Cherepuschak said.
The timing worked out well for his next planned hunting trip: In June he learned he was drawn for moose in the fall.
“It’s definitely a warm fuzzy feeling that you get in your stomach, and I think the closer I get to my moose season, the more excitement I’ll have,” he said.
He’s drawn for wildlife management Zone 40, which sits in the east-central part of the province in the Wadena area.
As of early July, there’s not yet a motorized wheelchair in the province that’s equipped for covering rough ground. The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation (SWF) is trying to secure the province’s first one.
“We’ve requested an updated list of the requirements of this machine (from the environment) ministry so we can identify preferably (a company) in Saskatchewan, if not, in Canada to modify one or build one for us,” SWF executive director Darrell Crabbe said.
The federation estimates it will cost $30,000 to purchase one.
Crabbe said the preference is for a gas-powered chair, over a battery-powered one, to be reliable in cold weather.
The SWF wants the chair to be used by non-hunters, too. “Maybe some other folks (can) go for a hike or tour some wildlife lands, or even take it out fishing,” Crabbe said.
In securing the regulatory change, Cherepuschak had help from NDP MLA Trent Wotherspoon.
“This is something we’ve been pushing for. We advocated directly to the ministry and directly to the minister (Dustin Duncan) to make this important change,” Wotherspoon said.
Cherepuschak first pitched Wotherspoon on the change when they crossed paths at Regina’s Cabela’s in December; Cherepuschak was in the middle of a work shift at the outdoor outfitter.
Wotherspoon commended him on his persistence.
Using 2017 data, Statistics Canada says 2,676,370 Canadians aged 15 and older have a mobility-related disability; the drug company Rexall estimates each year in Canada 120 babies are born with spina bifida, a neural tube defect.
Spina bifida occurs during pregnancy, affecting the proper development of a baby’s spine; it occurs in three different forms, the difference being how far and if a person’s nerve endings protrude outside of their spine.